Being a Chinese Teacher in a Rural Primary School in Tibet: A Narrative Inquiry of a Han Chinese Teacher's Identity Development

Being a Chinese Teacher in a Rural Primary School in Tibet: A Narrative Inquiry of a Han Chinese Teacher's Identity Development

Chaoran Wang (Indiana University Bloomington, Bloomington, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/IJTEPD.2018010103


China is a multi-ethnic country with one majority ethnic group (i.e. the Hans) and fifty-five minority groups. Nowadays Mandarin is a required course in Tibetan schools, and there are many Han Chinese recruited to teach Mandarin in Tibet. This article explores the identity development of a Han Chinese teacher as he works in a rural primary school in Tibet where the local language and culture is different from his own. From a social-cultural perspective and using narrative inquiry, this article views identity formation as an ongoing process involving interpretation and reinterpretation of one's living experiences as well as acknowledges the social and contextual constructions of one's life stories. The findings uncover the teacher's identity struggles as he tries to adapt to local traditions of teaching. The narratives generate important implications for policy makers and language teacher training programs.
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Literature Review

There has been research on teaching Chinese as a second language to minority students from both theoretical and pedagogical perspectives (Blachford, 1997). Some scholars, from a linguistic perspective, discuss how language differences influence the teaching and learning of Chinese (Cobbey, 2007; Bialystok, 2001). Some scholars, focusing on classroom practices, discuss how Han teachers can provide effective instructions and address the cultural differences when teaching at local minority schools (Lin, 1997; Wan & Zhang, 2007; Wang, 2011; Zhou, 2001). There is also research evaluating the effectiveness of local school curriculums and providing suggestions for minority schools’ curriculum development (Dello-lacovo, 2009; Lin, 1997).

Besides, there is a lot of research on learning Chinese as a second language from minority students’ and teachers’ perspectives. For example, some scholars specifically focus on minority students’ attitudes, confidence, and motivation in learning Mandarin Chinese (Yang, 2015). Scholars have also investigated minority students’ bilingual learning experiences in local schools (Feng, 2007; Lam, 2007). In terms of minority teachers’ perspective, there is research exploring minority teachers’ teaching experiences, perceptions, and reflections of bilingual instruction (Hansen, 2011; Huang, 2007; Luo & Wang, 2004).

However, little attention has been paid to Han Chinese teachers’ emotion, adaptation, and identity formation when they teach in local ethnic regions. Although there have been numerous studies on second language (L2) teachers’ identities, they are mostly about L2 English teachers’ identity and professional development instead of that of L2 teachers of other languages (Johnson, 2006; Lee, 2013; Pavlenko, 2003; Tsui, 2007; Varghese, et al., 2005). However, a noticeable commonality among these studies is that many of them examine L2 English teacher identities from a sociocultural perspective. Johnson (2006) explains that the emergence of sociocultural research on L2 teacher identities is because more and more scholars have realized “the complex social, cultural, political, and institutional factors that affect L2 teachers and L2 teaching” (p. 250).

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